Set to pluck bigger PLUMS IN FUTURE

S. R. SURYANARAYAN

Joshna Chinappa, expected to win the world junior title, finished runner-up.-VINO JOHN

IN sport as in life, too much of expectation can ruin happiness. Joshna Chinappa, India's best known name in squash, will vouch for this. Judged by her potential and the progress she has made in recent times — she won the British junior Open Under-19 title — she was expected to pull it off at Herentals in Belgium where the recent junior World championship was held. But call it the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip or just bad luck, the Chennai collegian sank under the weight of the overwhelming expectations, both real and illusory.

For one who had not dropped even a single game while getting past players like Kristen Lange, Siti Munirah Josoh, Joey Chan, Sara Badr into the final, the title-round performance came as an anti-climax. "I could hardly move on the court, let alone play a decent length or a shot," Joshna said of that forgettable show, pre-empting the question, "What really happened?"

It is true that Joshna had last met the Egyptian girl and the eventual winner, Raneem El Weleily, once before in the British Open Under-13 competition and lost to her. But much had happened since. Joshna rose to become Asian champion and then she also went on to bag the British Open Under-17 title before the Under-19 success. If tradition is anything to go by, Joshna should have followed players like Nicol David and later Omneya Abdel Kawi, who too had a similar line of progress and covered themselves with glory in the World championship. But expectations, until the final round safely tucked away in a corner of her mind, suddenly came up to overwhelm her.

Perhaps the media-attention from India too bothered her for suddenly she wondered, "What happens should I lose after all this preparation? And back home everybody was looking forward to her winning?" Negative thoughts that were to cloud her mind and numb her limbs to submission. Raneem, on hindsight, could not have had an easier way to triumph, more so after the harrowing two-game down fightback that she had to stage in the semi-final against Tenille Swartz of South Africa. Ironies never cease to surface in sports.

With parents, Sunita and Anjan Chinappa.-VINO JOHN

Added to that was the fact that this was Joshna's last outing as a junior. The World juniors ended her career in this section and the Herentals debacle meant her showcase collection will be that much poorer. It was this fact that worried Joshna's parents. Mother Sunita was in Belgium, ensuring that Joshna had company and also homely food. "She ensured I did not miss anything that way," Joshna chuckled but when she woke up an hour earlier than usual on the morning of the final, the champion girl felt something was amiss.

All these things came only as an after thought for Joshna, who much to the surprise of all close to her, friends and parents, never took the defeat too deep. Even though she returned home in the wee hours, Joshna was up in the morning to burn calories at her favourite Fitness-one centre. "I had eaten a whole lot of chocolate bars, something I had resisted till the final, and I needed to burn those extra calories", she was to say in a lighter vein. But deep within her this act was a clear message that she put the Herentals episode behind and set sights on future. If this positive thinking is admirable in her then what floors one is hearing her plans ahead: play as many WISPA tournaments starting with the Lahore event (August end), get into the top 30 by next year, ensuring regular coaching at Amsterdam with Liz Irwing (one of the world's best known woman coach) and fitness routines in Chennai with Basu (who is attached to the cricketers).

Joshna explained that her one-month tenure with Liz in Amsterdam was one of her most fruitful times as a squash player. "She is the type who is heaped in technique and strategies and at my level now that is what is important. Besides she sees a lot of potential in me and that is the confidence I need for my future," she said. "Yes, funding will be a worry. The Union Sports Ministry and the SDAT have given me immense help and continue to do so. But I need a tie-up to sustain the tempo and enable me to gain as much experience in international tournaments," Joshna said. "For the moment, I will have to make my own choices on tournaments with an eye on gaining points and ranking. To that extent the rich tournaments will have to wait for the time being", she added.

As one who has dominated the women's squash scene in the country in the past few years, Joshna wants to have it that way. "I will continue to play in national championships and prize-money tournaments," she said. But it is clear, for her own good and to sustain her standards, vis-a-vis international level, the Chennai girl will have to spend a lot of time abroad. Knowing her will, her positive attitude and her hunger for achievements, Joshna may not lack the drive to excel.

Herentals may be lost but the Indian talent believes there are bigger gains to be had in the seasons ahead. As of now she is the best ambassador of Indian squash with the unparalleled record of reaching a World championship final.